Tuesday, 24 April 2012

92. Days of Thunder

Stepping carefully around the malodorous pools of run-off from the bloody butcher's tables and the fishmonger's trays, the closed eyes of severed pig heads follow us until we begin to breathe freely again in the safety of the fruit and vegetable section. Beyond, the prepared food stalls offer an expanse of flavours and tastes from sugar-laden delicasies to spicy curries. Thailand's gregarious food markets appear to be holding their own against the modern imperial power of Tescos, Big C and Seven Eleven that have arrived into almost every town in the country. In the evening, night markets are set up in plazas or cordoned-off streets and the eating continues. Markets offer choice, the cheapest prices and also a preview of what you can order which is always helpful when communication is difficult.

Krabi market 8 a.m.

 Soya milk and steam buns

For the staples of part-time self-catering we find ourselves as much parked outside the supermarket as the local market and after a breakfast of fish, rice and steam buns in Krabi's market we rode out of town, stopping at Big C for some snacks and supplies. We met Troy as he pulled in on his loaded Trek 520. We were both headed south and he caught up with us a few kilometres down the road and we've spent the past couple of days riding to the Malaysian border and sleeping in temples. Troy began his tour six months ago in Beijing. Along the way, a French cyclist, Orellion, also joined us for a day as we continued south in the steamy heat and daily storms.

Temple camping 

Morning at the temple 

A Buddhist practice of releasing captured birds and fish on important dates such as New Year or one's birthday means you see a lot of bird cages in Thailand 


On our first evening with Troy we had eaten dinner and then turned up at the temple opposite looking for a place to pitch up. A short man with broken English came up and insisted we follow him to his house. We followed the taillight of his scooter in the darkness a short distance up the road and he opened up a door into a large sitting room where we were offered seats while floor mats materialised. Snacks and cans of Singha followed as our host demonstrated his proficiency on an extensive array of instruments in the room. His six year-old daughter was very excited at her new guests and ran shyly between her smiling grandmother who sat on the floor and her mother who hovered in the back of the house. As nextdoors wedding party winded down in the middle of the street, our host moved between us and the party before finally wishing us good night as we all dived under a family-sized neon pink mosquito net. The following morning we were treated to bowls of rice porridge and bread.

Last night we arrived into Satun, having waved goodbye to Orellion after lunch when he took a turn to a village that he had previously worked in. After finding the cheapest bed in town we went out to eat a Himilayan portion of fried rice with seafood. Back at the guesthouse, Ellie had made friends with a little kitten and since there was no space to push the beds apart, all four of us - kitten included - bedded down together under the weak fan that didn't do much to alleviate the hot night air.

Four in the bed

Satun, Thailand
Pedalled: 60,026 km

Friday, 20 April 2012

91. Finding Nemo

Sawing out the rusted seatpost... day 3

Ma using his metallurgical training to curse the seatpost

German cyclist Patrick, Ellie, Benji and Nook

After three days and three nights, in the spirit of the lenten season, the seatpost came free. Elation. One of Ma's friends cooked up a Thai feast on a stove in the back of the shop and we brought Patrick along, a German pedaller whom we had first met in Cambodia and bumped into on our last day in Bangkok. We packed our bags and prepared for an early morning departure from the capital. The 5 a.m. alarm came and went though and it was near midday when we woke up. So after one last day in the capital we rode out on a quiet Saturday morning and followed highway 35 and then some quiet coast roads past workers gathering salt, down the beginning of the Thai-Malay peninsula. A few days of riding on both the busy highway 4 and some peaceful coast roads brought us to Chumphon, where we stacked our bikes between the piles of gravel and sand on the deck of a night ferry over to Ko Tao (Tao island).

Leaving the big city on a big road. Nice clouds.

Drying something fishy

Collecting salt

There are some places that even Rocinante finds it difficult to go. We spent five days on the former penal colony of Ko Tao where Ellie caught up with school friend Darren who works as a dive master, while I was introduced to a new underwater world of scuba diving. Over the days our class gradually emerged from awkward thrashing mammals with rubber fins and metal tanks to almost graceful movements as forty-five minute fish (that being the typical length of our dives) around the reefs surrounding the island. As a veteran open water diver, Ellie joined me on the advanced open water course and we did a series of dives together including a night dive, a wreck dive, and finally a navigation dive where we set forth on our own and fortunately found the way back again. Most of the time I felt like a lego man in a tropical fish tank as multi-coloured, fluorescent fish floated past. Monogamous pairs of Vagabond butterfly fish, blue ringed angel fish, cat fish, bat fish, goat fish. A stingray. A little octopus. Christmas tree worms that snapped shut like a wink when I got too close to their home on the coral. Occasionally a threatening titan trigger fish could be seen scratching at the coral and once on an ascent I was the last to rise and saw a trio of reef sharks dart among the shoals of barracuda for breakfast. And I also found Nemo clowning around under a rock.

Nemo and mates

Outside the monkey temple in Prachuap Khiri Khan


 The monkey on the footpath nearly got the mangoes on the back of Ellie's bike

 Highway 4 - unavoidable at times, the main north-south route

Not every day looks like this

We arrived groggily back to the mainland on the night boat to Surat Thani, stumbling onto a deserted pier at 4.30 a.m. and setting off through the city while the monks collected their alms. In a couple of days we crossed the peninsula to the west side and the Andaman Sea. Through tropical cash crop plantations of rubber, coconut and palm oil. The sweaty grind being rewarded with friendly locals and fiery curries. Sitting outside the market in the village of Thap Put, our German friend Patrick rolled up and we camped together in a nearby temple where the monks gave us a couple of wooden cabins for the evening to lay down as well as presents from their morning's alms including mineral water and soya milk. We chatted in the dark while the rain fell and woke up at 5 am with the morning's prayers being broadcast on loudspeaker. As we handed over a small donation, we were given rice desserts, sandwiches and tea to take with us. And south we went. Patrick said goodbye for the third time in a few weeks as a rain cloud burst overhead as he headed to the climbing mecca of Railey and Ellie and I rode past the forested limestone outcrops into Krabi for day's rest before continuing on over the Malaysian border in a few days time.

Chasing clouds as the rainy season approaches

Elections. Some sort of divine light behind this candidate.

Latex drips into a split coconut shell on a rubber tree

Note: The half-hour Touring Talk interview we did with Amaya in Bangkok is now available to listen to online or by podcast if you're looking for some perceptive insight into the world of bicycle touring!

Krabi, Thailand
Pedalled: 59,703 kilometres